What a grand weekend of baseball! Let’s take it day-by-day for the six teams that were still contending for open spots in the playoffs. None of them were playing each other.
Friday, October 1: In the NL, Milwaukee (Central) and Atlanta (East) were already in the postseason by winning their divisions. But the two teams with the best records in baseball were still fighting for the NL West title. San Francisco was two games ahead of Los Angeles, and on Friday, both teams won. Still a two-game lead for the Giants, but LA still alive.
In the AL, the three division races were over. The winners were Tampa Bay (East), Chicago (Central) and Houston (West). But the two Wild Card slots were still being contested by four teams: New York, Seattle, Boston and Toronto. The Yankees could clinch a Wild Card slot by winning on Friday, leaving the other three to fight for the second slot. The Yankees lost and all four teams were still alive: NY (91-69), Boston (90-70), Seattle (89-71) and Toronto (89-71).
Saturday, October 2: In the NL, the Giants lost and the Dodgers won. The Giants lead was now only one game with a game to go.
Over in the AL, my sentimental favorite was Seattle. They have not been in the postseason for 20 years, the longest playoff drought among all MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL teams. Founded in 1977, they have never won a pennant or a World Series. The Mariners hold the AL record for most wins in a season, 116 in 2001, but that team lost to the Yankees in the ALCS.
This year, the Mariners gave their fans hope with a surge in September. The fans responded by adopting the underdog mantra of Ted Lasso, the famous soccer coach of England’s AFC Richmond (of the Apple TV+ League).
Below, the Mariners fans with their “BELIEVE” signs. It reminded me of the Baby Shark craze for the Washington Nationals in 2019.
And on Saturday night in Seattle, the Mariner fans were rewarded with a come-from-behind victory. The key blow was a single by Mitch Haniger in the 8th inning, scoring two runs to put the Mariners in the lead. Please watch this clip that went viral (Seattle broadcaster Dave Sims wonderfully capturing the excitement of the moment).
Toronto and Boston also won. And the Yankees lost! At the end of the night: NY (91-70), Boston (91-70), Seattle (90-71) and Toronto (90-71). A 4-way tie was possible.
Sunday, October 3: On Sunday, all 30 MLB teams played Game 162 of the season. The six contending teams from Friday were still alive. All games started between 2:00 and 2:20 CDT. It was a scoreboard watching delight – on my iPad for the first hour as I watched the Chiefs win, and then the MLB Channel which was doing drop-ins of all the key games.
In the NL, the drama was short-lived. San Francisco jumped out to a big lead over the Padres and won easily (11-4). The Giants finished the season 107-55. The Dodgers also won, finishing at 106-56, the most wins by a second-place team in MLB history (the 1909 Cubs and 1942 Dodgers held the prior record of 104). LA’s consolation prize was a slot pitting them against the Cardinals in the NL Wild Card game.
Over in the AL, the setup was more complicated. Jeff Passan of ESPN posted this Wesley Johnson table of the 16 scenarios for the results. Nine of these would lead to additional tiebreaker games on Monday.
Boston and New York could assure a Wild Card slot by just winning their games. Seattle and Toronto not only had to win, they needed a Boston or New York loss. And it came down to the 9th inning in both the Boston and New York games before we knew the answer.
At Yankee Stadium, the Yankees had no runs and only one hit through eight innings. But Tampa Bay also had no runs. In the bottom of the 9th, the Yankees got a walk-off 1-0 win on an infield single by Aaron Judge.
At Nationals Park, Boston had been behind Washington 5-1, but had clawed back for a 5-5 tie going into the 9th inning. In the top of the inning, Boston’s Rafael Devers hit a two-run homer, and the Red Sox prevailed 7-5.
With the wins by the Red Sox and Yankees, the Toronto and Seattle games were moot. For the record, the Jays won and the Mariners lost. So Boston and New York would meet in the…
2021 AL Wild Card Game: Last Night, the Yankees and Red Sox met at Fenway for another big game in their storied rivalry. I usually think first of 1978. When the regular season ended, the Kansas City Royals had won the AL West, but they did not yet know their rival for the next round. New York and Boston had finished the season tied and needed a one-game playoff at Fenway for the AL East title. New York won 5-4 with the big blow being a 3-run homer over the Green Monster by light-hitting shortstop Bucky Dent (or as he is called in Boston to this day, “Bucky F—king Dent”). The Yankees then swept the Royals in the ALCS and beat the Dodgers in the World Series.
In the game last night, the Green Monster again played a role, but not the same way it had for Bucky Dent. The Yankee hitter this time was prodigious slugger Giancarlo Stanton. He twice hit towering blows off the top of the Green Monster. The first time, he thought it was gone and took his time heading to first. It caromed of the top of the wall and Stanton had a long single. He wasn’t the only one who thought it was a homer. The Yankees radio broadcaster excitedly shouted that it was a “Stantonian” homer (the radio call is a hoot; click here).
On Stanton’s second hit off the Green Monster, Aaron Judge was on first and tried to score. Bad idea. A perfect relay nailed Judge at home plate (video here).
Stanton took a different approach in the 9th inning. He hit a screaming line drive to the opposite field – a homer over the much shorter right field fence. Too little, too late. Boston blended good pitching and hitting to win 6-2. Next stop for the Red Sox, the ALDS in Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field.
The Yankees are done, playing one more game this season than the Royals. The two teams share a stat for the year. Each had 22 runners thrown out at home plate, tops in MLB.
2021 NL Wild Card Game: Tonight, the Cardinals play the Dodgers in Los Angeles in the NL Wild Card game. St. Louis rode a September 17-game winning streak to earn their spot in the game. St. Louis sportswriter Derrick Goold posted a Busch Stadium photo that aptly reflected the Cardinals superb September play.
Most people viewing this photo no doubt focus on the rainbow on the right. But I direct your attention to the office building at the left edge. With the proper zoom ratio, you can read the name of my law firm, Polsinelli. That building is the home of our St. Louis office.
Salvador Perez (2014): While on the subject of Wild Cards, we must of course remember 2014. The Royals played Oakland in the Wild Card game and fell behind 7-3. They struck back in the 8th inning with three runs and another in the 9th to tie the game at 7-7 and take the game to extra innings. The A’s scored a run in the top of the 12th to lead 8-7. In the Royals 12th, Eric Hosmer scored on a hit by Christian Colon to tie the game 8-8. With two outs and Colon on second, Salvy Perez came to the plate. He was 0-5 at that point. He singled to left, just past the outstretched glove of Josh Donaldson, for the Royals victory. Video here.
The Wild Card format was created in 2012, and of the 16 Wild Card games played to date, the Royals/Oakland contest is clearly the best. I’m biased, but it’s also #1 in the rankings announced by the Ringer this week (click here).
Thank you Salvy!
Salvador Perez (2015): Salvy was the MVP of the World Series when the Royals beat the Mets in 2015.
Thank you Salvy!
Salvador Perez (2021): Sensing a pattern here?
In 2021, Salvy had another stellar year behind the plate, leading the AL in most catching categories. But it was his hitting that was off the charts.
One of Salvy’s biggest accomplishments was passing Hall of Famer Johnny Bench for most homers by a catcher. The graphic below was posted just after Salvy hit #46 to pass Bench. Another position also changed hands this season – Marcus Semien of Toronto hit 45 homers to pass Davey Johnson at second base. Note that only two players on the chart are in the Hall of Fame (Griffey and Wilson). Some are not in because of steroids, others not yet eligible. Salvy is still playing, and with a few more good seasons, he could get to the HOF.
Johnny Bench tweeted his congratulations to Salvy: “As Yogi said, I knew my record would stand until it was broken! Congrats. Great guy. Great catcher.” The two also had an entertaining 3-minute chat (video here).
Salvy was not done at 46 homers. He finished the season with 48, tying him with Jorge Soler for the Royals all-time record and also tying him for the 2021 MLB lead with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. In addition, he was tops in MLB RBIs with 121. To celebrate Salvy’s two-thirds of a Triple Crown, the Royals team of Robbie Poulain (graphics) and Jason Hanna (photos) produced this fitting visual.
Salvy’s free-swinging style and (lack of) speed have led to some interesting stats. Among players in baseball history with more career homers than walks, Salvy has the most homers (200 homers, 162 walks). Jonathon Schoop is in second place with 161 homers (160 walks). All other qualifiers have less than 100 homers. In 2021, Salvy was the only player with more than 40 homers who was NOT caught stealing. His success rate was 100%. For the other 40-homer sluggers: Marcus Semien finished at 94% (15 steals/16 attempts); Fernando Tatis Jr – 86% (25/29); Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – 80% (4/5); and Shohei Ohtani – 72% (26/36).
Below, Salvy after his 47th homer. I chose this photo because Salvy was so often on our TV screen as the post-game guest – a slot generally reserved for the star of the game, especially one with clutch hitting. He did it game after game. Click here for a nice 2-minute video from KCTV5 on Salvy’s season.
Some of you may still be wondering about Salvy’s 100% success rate on stolen bases. He had one attempt. He was safe. This also tied his personal record for steals in a season (he got one steal in each of five prior seasons; caught stealing only once; current career numbers, 6/7).
Thank you Salvy!
Kansas City Royals (2021): At the beginning of the season, the Hot Stove Nostradamus Panel predicted the number of wins for the Royals: Steve Roling – 74, David Matson – 76, Bob White – 77, Jeb Bayer – 80, and Lonnie – 81. Alas, four of us were too optimistic. But Steve Roling nailed it. The Royals finished 74-88.
With the great hitting in the Royals farm system and a lot of arms that might make for a solid pitching staff, maybe it’s a good time for that hopeful cry of “Wait ‘Til Next Year.”
Although 2021 was a tough year for the Royals, Chief Hot Stove Statistician Wayne Tenenbaum found some silver linings. His year-end report:
“Has there ever been a year when so many Royals led the League or were in the top ten in offensive categories – of course, Salvy led the Majors, with that pesky Blue Jay, in home runs and also led in RBIs; Merrifield led the Majors in AB, tied for the Major League lead in doubles, led the American League in steals, was fourth in the Majors in hits; Lopez and Dozier tied for 8th in the Major leagues in triples; and Santana tied for 8th in walks. Lopez is the first Royals shortstop ever to finish a season hitting 300 or higher.”
I have witnessed Wayne’s expertise with numbers since law school. Calculating the odds (in his head) for our annual Kentucky Derby parties. Fantasy MLB and NBA leagues. Analyzing numbers when we worked on Mike White’s race for County Executive. And especially for his property tax business – immortalized in this 1986 cover photo of Wayne as a numbers sleuth with his partner Ken Hill (RIP) looking over his shoulder.
Thank you Wayne!
The Baseball 100 – Joe Posnanski: Last week, Rita and I attended the Rainy Day Books event for Joe Posnanski’s The Baseball 100. Customers ordering from Rainy Day were given the opportunity to ask Joe for a specific inscription – no matter the content, even if Joe had to say he likes the Yankees when everyone knows he does not. Joe then spent several days in the basement of Rainy Day signing hundreds of books.
When Rita and I arrived at the event, we picked up our book and of course went quickly to the title page. Our request to Joe had been this: “To Rita and Lonnie and all of their Hot Stove subscribers.” And sure enough, there it was. But Joe did a bit more. He added “…including me!” Back in 2015, when I was sending out missives about the World Series, Adam Sachs forwarded them to Joe and introduced me to Joe via email. When I started Hot Stove after the Series, Adam did it again, and Joe became a subscriber. I doubt he has time to read my musings, but it was nice of him to make note of it in his inscription.
Joe sported a KC Monarchs jersey for his interview with baseball stats legend Bill James. The large audience was treated to a feast of baseball nostalgia by two of the best in the genre.
Thanks to NLBM President Bob Kendrick who tweeted out this photo. The audio for the event is available on Joe’s “PosCast” (click here).
A big part of the discussion was about prior versions of “best player lists” and the process – stats, art and gut – that it takes to arrive at the rankings. Bill James has his own experience with this, most notably his “100 Greatest Players” in the 2001 masterwork The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. Bill and Joe did not detail how their lists were different, but I will.
When I got home, I took my Abstract from the shelf to look at Bill’s list. Here are his Top 12, from 1 to 12: Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Willie Mays, Oscar Charleston, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson, Stan Musial, Tris Speaker and Henry Aaron.
I’m also going to list Joe’s Top 12, and these are not spoilers of the book. Joe ran 100 essays over 100 days when he was writing for The Athletic, and these essays are the basis for the book. So followers of Joe know his rankings, and they have been well publicized as the book came out. Joe, from 1 to 12: Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Oscar Charleston, Ted Williams, Walter Johnson, Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Satchel Paige, Mickey Mantle and Honus Wagner.
They are even close on those that do not match among their Top 12. Bill has Barry Bonds at 16 and Satchel Paige at 17. Joe has Josh Gibson at 15 and Tris Speaker at 18. Of special note, both lists include Negro Leaguers.
Thank you Joe and Bill!
There will be a lot of disagreement on the specific rankings of the 100 players. Joe knows this and welcomes it – as a baseball fan and a guy selling books. He is all over the map with interviews, podcasts and reviews of his book. All of them good from what I’ve seen. I’ll let Bob Costas summarize what is going on.
“You can quibble with some of Joe Posnanski’s judgements. And so what? That’s always been part of the fun for baseball fans. And Posnanski on baseball has always been fun.
The fascination with telling details, quirks, coincidences and historical connections. The appreciation of the romantic and the ridiculous. The parsing of the numbers balanced by the understanding there are individuals and moments mere facts can never fully capture. All rendered in pleasing prose filled with nifty turns of phrase. And then there is this — who else has the energy and devotion to both his subject and his craft to churn out more than 800 pages of baseball history, each page as fresh and joyful as the one before and the one to follow?
Almost no one will read The Baseball 100 straight through. Jump around. Find your favorites. And discover those largely lost to history. Joe gives them their due. This book is a baseball feast that can be consumed in small bites or large gulps. Either way, it’s a book we fans will return to often. To spark or settle debates, sure. But especially for the endless pleasure of the history of our greatest game as delivered by one of its finest chroniclers.”
Thank you Bob!
Home Run Derby (2021): At the beginning of the season, I wrote about the Home Run Derby (HRD) that had drawn ten of us back to a competition that originally ran from 1985 to 1997. I remember some of the drafts being conducted in the Polsinelli conference room. There were several Polsinelli participants, and the Shughart law firm was also well represented. The camaraderie fostered by HRD led to the two law firms merging in 2009 (upon reflection, I don’t think HRD had anything to do with that). There was also a concentration of staffers from Senator Tom Eagleton’s office.
Steve Roling won the HRD in 1993 and 1994. Bob White arranged for a trophy listing the winners. With Steve’s consecutive victories, it was to be dubbed the “Roling Cup.” But the engraver misunderstood and it became (and still is) the “Rolling Cup.” Below, circa 1994, Woody Overton (RIP) presenting the Rolling Cup to Steve. In the middle is trophy designer Bob White. Woody, Bob and Steve were all staffers in Senator Eagleton’s office.
Fast forward to 2021. Tim Sear lobbied for a renewal of the competition. Ten of us put up some dollars and held a draft of eight rounds. Steve Roling volunteered to be Commissioner (i.e., keep track of the homers). But he established a rule – the succeeding Commissioner would be whoever came in last for the year. The ten participants: Tim, Steve, Lonnie, Bob White, Jeb Bayer, Eric Trelz, Joel Poole, Jim Heeter, David Matson and Tom/Del Grimaldi.
We received weekly reports from Commissioner Roling. Emails went back and forth. I’ve always said that I’m in this for the emails – very witty people. Baseball, friends and humor. A trifecta.
As the season progressed, injuries took their toll. We had a right to make two moves during the season to replace injured or low-performing players. There was a lot of back and forth in the standings, and as the HRD neared the end of the season, it was almost as competitive as the American League Wild Card race. Entering the last week of the season, the top three:
Matson – 238
Shalton – 234
White – 224
As the last week began, I picked up a few homers and David’s team did not. What was worse for him, he lost a homer. Commissioner Roling found a miscalculation based on a one of David’s mid-season replacements. As of the end play on Wednesday night, I led our contest for the first time of the season.
Shalton – 239
Matson (as adjusted) – 237
White – 231
My lead lasted one day. With the help of a two-homer night from Bo Bichette, David was back in first.
Matson – 241
Shalton – 240
White – 235
The next night (Friday), neither Matson nor I got a homer. White got only 1. But Matson felt secure. He noted he had four Toronto Blue Jays sluggers, and they were playing the Orioles, the team with the worst ERA in MLB (5.38). And he was right. By the time the dust settled after Saturday and Sunday at the Sky Dome in Toronto, Matson had cleaned up. And White almost caught me. Final standings:
Matson – 249
Shalton – 241
White – 239
So Matson wins the big money while Bob and I share the pittance for 2nd and 3rd. Congratulations to Joel Poole who will be our Commissioner for next year. As for Steve Roling and his superb performance as Commissioner this year…
Thank you Steve!
Postscript. As he was on the verge of winning the HRD, Matson also dreamed of being right on his prediction of 76 Royals wins (our Nostradamus Panel). His thought if that happened: “While I will not let it go to my head, I will be referring to myself in the third person and would like you to address me as Mr. Baseball or The Savant.”
The Royals let him down, ending the season with two losses to finish with 74 wins. Nevertheless, David’s lofty titles may have merit. Early in the season, when my original 7th round pick Luis Robert was injured, I needed to make a move. In some of our email banter, David had suggested Mitch Haniger might be a good pick. So I took him. I had barely heard of Haniger, and now he is part of two stories in Hot Stove.
When you take a player after the initial draft, you count only his homers after the move date. Haniger had hit 8 homers when I took him, and he then hit 31 more homers that went into my total. David’s suggestion was one of the two big reasons for my 2nd place home run total, so…
Thank you David…The Savant!
The second big reason I got to 241 homers was that I drafted Salvy Perez. In the fifth round! You know how that turned out.
Thank you Salvy!
Lonnie’s Jukebox – Buck: To extend the discussion on Joe Posnanski, I’ll segue to another of his books, the moving “The Soul of Baseball,” about his friend, the late Buck O’Neil. Joe and President Bob Kendrick of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum traveled with Buck around the country, and that trip and their discussions were beautifully chronicled in this book.
Last November, Joe and Bob were joined by Bob Costas and Ken Burns for a remembrance of Buck via a live-streamed event hosted by the NLBM.
And that brings me to my final item in the partial list of the reasons of why I love baseball. I never tire of hearing Buck O’Neil sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Click here (and you get some Salvy too).
Thank you Buck!